By Nicholas Bariyo
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo Thursday started to deploy special forces in Katanga province in an attempt to contain a growing wave of insecurity in the country's copper-mining heartland, a military spokesman said.
A separatist militia group, known as Bakata Katanga, has stepped up attacks in Katanga since March, destabilizing the province that has for years been shielded from the violent insurgencies that have dogged mineral-rich eastern Congo since the late 1990s. In March, Bakata Katanga swept through the copper-mining hub city of Lubumbashi, Katanga's capital, for several hours, sending shockwaves through the mine investment community.
The U.N. mission, known as Monusco, is expected to complete the deployment of a special forces unit, comprising of more than 100 Egyptian troops, in the province in the next few days to neutralize threats to civilians and aid officials, Colonel Felix Basse, the Monusco military spokesman told Dow Jones Newswires.
It is the first time the U.N. has deployed specialized troops in Katanga, since the start of insurgency early this year. The insurgency threatens multi-billion dollar copper mining projects in Katanga, which is expected to produce around 800,000 metric tons of copper this year that would bring it on a par with Zambia, Africa's largest copper producer.
"With more officers and men on the ground, we shall be in a better combat position to deal with the insecurity," Col. Basse said. "Threats to civilians and NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) are on the rise, it's within our mandate to act."
The unit will reinforce several battalions of peacekeeping troops in the province, which exported 600,000 tons of copper last year.
Glencore Xstrata PLC (>> Glencore Xstrata PLC), U.S. miner Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (>> Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.) and Lundin Mining Corp. (LUN.T) are among companies operating in the province.
While the mining sector in troubled eastern Congo is devoid of large-scale investments, Katanga, which has seen years of relative peace, has attracted huge investment in the past decade, helping to turn around its once shattered copper mining sector.
Write to Nicholas Bariyo at Nicholas.Bariyo@dowjones.com
Corrections & Amplifications
This item was corrected at 1158 GMT because it misstated the name of the Monusco military spokesman in the fifth paragraph as Base, when it should be Basse.